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Explaining the Accountability of Independent Agencies: The Importance of Political Salience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2011

Christel Koop*
Political Science, European University Institute
Christel Koop Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute, Via dei Roccettini 9, 50014 San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, e-mail:


Independent agencies are exempted from the accountability mechanisms inherent in the ministerial hierarchy. To compensate for this, politicians incorporate all kinds of information and reporting requirements into the statutes of the organizations. However, the degree to which this occurs varies considerably, which raises the question: Why are some agencies are made more accountable than others? This study examines the impact of political salience on degrees of accountability, controlling for other potential explanations. Using original data on 103 independent agencies in the Netherlands, the analysis demonstrates that salience has a twofold effect. First, agencies dealing with more salient issues are made more politically accountable. Second, agencies whose statutes are written when the issue of accountability is more salient are also subject to higher degrees of accountability. Other explanatory factors are the number of veto players and the legal basis of the organization.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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I am greatful for the comments of Peter Mair, Mark Bovens, John Huber, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Veerle van Doeveren, the participants in the workshop on coordination and control held at the EUI in October 2009, the participants in the comparative politics workshop held at Columbia University, and the anonymous reviewers. I would also like to thank the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund for its financial support, and Columbia University's Department of Political Science for hosting the workshop in the spring of 2010.


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